Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment producer. Apparel workers quickly produce cheaply made clothing in order to satiate the American, fast fashion addiction. But atypical of most addictions, it’s the producer in this case-not the user- who continues to suffer the deathly repercussions of the drug: 1,136 deathly ‘repercussions’ in six months, to be exact.
But there is hope for change for workers’ protection in Bangladesh. As of October 3rd, nearly 1,600 factories and more than two million garment workers in Bangladeshare now protected by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety pact. The pact is a legally binding agreement encompassing the entire supply chain: from the brand to the retailer to the unions and the factories. Information on size of factory, the number of stories and the other businesses the building houses will be available for all signatories.
This unprecedented type of transparency is a huge step for the apparel industry, which has faced several tragedies in the past several years, including a recent factory fire just five days ago in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed nine people. And only six months ago, in Savar, Bangladesh families mourned the loss of 1,127 people who were killed in a high rise, apparel factory building. The eight-story building had recently added three new stories to the building, despite lack of permission from building inspectors. Exit gates were padlocked, trapping victims inside the building perimeters; a common practice at garment factories in Bangladesh.
As part of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety agreement, it is the responsibility of the apparel brand to improve the safety conditions of their sourcing factories:
Section 22 of the Accord reads: ‘In order to induce factories to comply with upgrade and remediation requirements of the program, participating brands and retailers will negotiate commercial terms with their suppliers which ensure that it is financially feasible for the factories to maintain safe workplaces and comply with upgrade and remediation requirements instituted by the Safety Inspector. Each signatory company may, at its option, use alternative means to ensure factories have the financial capacity to comply with remediation requirements, including but not limited to joint investments, providing loans, accessing donor or government support, through offering business incentives or through paying for renovations directly.‘
The agreement has been signed by 70 apparel corporations from 19 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia, including Marks and Spencer, H &M, Kmart, PUMA, Sainsbury’s, and Abercrombie & Fitch. IndustriALL, UNI, Workers’ Right Consortium, Clean Clothes and the International Labor Rights Forum have also signed on as labor federation and NGO witnesses. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) acts as an independent chair to the working committee of the implementation of the Accord.
Fast fashion is a disease-like addiction which most of us, myself included, have unknowingly succumbed. But we are beginning to know and to see the toll of our addiction on hard-working people- people just like you and me. I’ll be writing a follow-up piece about a newly released documentary called True Cost, which shares the complexity of fast fashion. Stay tuned.
Sources: Clean Clothes, Huffington Post, IndustriALL